Defenceman Luke Hughes scored on a breakaway at 3:07 of overtime to give the United States a surprisingly difficult 3-2 come-from-behind victory over upstart Austria.
“In a short tournament battling through adversity is huge,” said Hughes, the younger brother of NHL stars Quinn and Jack. “You never know when you’re going to be down, whether it’s now or in the medal round or anywhere. I think it’s huge for us to have that adversity now and hopefully we won’t have too much of it down the line. But it’s great to come back and win that game.”
At the start of the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, most experts predicted that Austria would battle Great Britain in the last game to avoid relegation, and have little chance at winning anything else. It’s still early, but that’s starting to look like it might be a bit of an underestimation. Two days after a very respectable 3-1 opening loss to powerhouse Sweden, the Austrians got a well-earned point in their second game against an expected medal contender.
In fact, the Austrians hoped for more from the game, leading 2-0 at one point in the second period before the Americans really turned up the heat. The shots on goal of the game were 39-16 in the USA’s favour. Austrian netminder David Kickert was fantastic in his first game of the tournament, stopping 36, while Strauss Mann stopped 14 Austrian attempts in his second straight start for the USA.
“It was important that we got in front but we have to continue that,” said Marco Kasper, the Rogle Angelholm centre and projected first-round NHL Draft pick this summer. “Especially in the third period, it’s got to be better. It’s disappointing that we lost at the end.”
Kasper left an impression on everyone who watched the first period. First there was a between-the-legs stick-handling move just inside the U.S. blueline, followed by a shot on goal. Then he orchestrated the period’s only goal, carrying the puck from his own zone to down below the far goal line – drawing attention away from the front of the net in the process – before he passed out front to an open Benjamin Nissner, who one-timed it home.
“I just want to help my team win, I want to represent my country,” said Kasper. “It’s a great honour for me and I want to focus on helping Austria win.”
“I think especially that first frame, the first 20 minutes of that game their attention to detail was better than ours, they came out a with little bit more jazz than we did,” said U.S. defenceman Nate Schmidt who, at 30, is one of the older players on the team. “We have a lot of guys who are over here for the first time, myself included, and I feel like we have to have a little bit of adversity to get over in these early games.”
The Americans came out with a lot more fire in the second period and announced their presence with an Alex Galchenyuk shot off the goalpost a minute in. The USA would go on to outshoot Austria 14-4 in the middle frame, partly aided by the period’s only power play.
Against the run of play, Austria went up 2-0 with 5:34 to go in the period. Rushing in 3-on-2, a nice three-way passing play went Lukas Haudum to Ali Wukovits to Paul Huber, who took the pass in front of the net and finished it off with a forehand deke of Mann.
But the Americans got one back just 17 seconds later on a great play by Kieffer Bellows, who cut out from behind the net and sent a backhander up into the roof of the net behind Kickert.
“That was huge. It was a monumental goal,” said Schmidt. “It really calmed the nerves down for the guys going into the locker room. You’re not trying to climb over this huge mountain of two goals, you’re just trying to get back into game and Kieffer did a great job of getting us on the board there.”
Early in the third period, the Americans went to the power play again and pressed hard, hitting another goalpost and forcing Kickert to be sharp, but the Vienna Capitals keeper was holding steady.
But the Austrians could only play with fire for so long. With 11:37 to play, Huber tried to knock the puck down with his hand, but it got stuck in his glove and he got called for closing his hand on the puck. It took just 20 seconds for the U.S. power play to finally cash in, with Adam Gaudette firing a perfect wrist shot to the far top corner, over Kickert’s blocker.
With just over two minutes to play, the Americans had their best chance to take the lead when Karson Kuhlman unleashed a slapper on a 3-on-2 rush that hit the bottom of Kickert’s glove and dribbled wide of the post. Kasper then led a rush back up the other way and whistled a shot just wide.
Sam Lafferty was called for interference with 55 seconds left in the third period, giving the Austrians a power play that carried over into overtime, but they couldn’t capitalize. Their best chance came with the teams at 3-on-3, with Peter Schneider ringing a shot off the crossbar.
But with just under two minutes to play in overtime, Sean Farrell found Hughes with the long pass, and the New Jersey Devils prospect skated in alone from the centre red line, beating Kickert under the glove.
“I think they came out really hard, we didn’t have a great start but it’s important how we finished,” said Hughes. “We came out in the second and third and brought out game, brought our pace. It’s huge for our team in this tournament to find a win coming from behind and hopefully we can start fast in the next game.”
“It’s really good for Austria to get a point but I think we could have won it in regulation,” said Kasper. “We had a chance there on the power play so it’s tough to lose that way.”